Hate Mail, TV3 and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland

Shane and Henry 2

This week Sallyanne Clarke told how she had received hate mail following her son’s death. Andrew Clarke was 16 when he died by suicide. Toxicology tests showed traces of cocaine and benzodiazepines in his system at the time of his death. One anonymous letter writer said she had obviously abandonded her son and maybe Andrew had just wanted to get away from her. This begs the question, does speaking out publicly by a grieving family give permission for a ‘no holds barred’ debate?

I can empathise with the Clarkes. I have received plenty of hate mail following Shane’s death; I thought I was the only one. I’ve had a fair few Tom, Dick and Harrys who’ve insisted on telling me why I’m delusional  and why they know better than I. One person thought it was for my own good, ‘cruel to be kind’ he said. After all, hadn’t I put myself ‘out there for debate‘. You eventually get used to the nastiness, at least I did, and that awful feeling following each ‘cruel to be kind’ correspondence lessens over time.

Since when did putting yourself out there for debate equate to agreeing to a ‘free for all’ though? I can honestly say that the worst experience I’ve had was with TV3 Television Network Ltd, when I agreed to take part in a documentary concerning my son’s death. I felt trampled on, exploited and further traumatised by TV3’s callous attitude and blatant lies.

The documentary itself wasn’t an issue, I was happy enough once Professor David Healy was given the opportunity to speak. Despite his opinion that we were marching into a stitch-up, he did the interview and has since said that he ‘remains happy to engage with Vincent Browne properly‘. My main issue was the promises I was given all the way through, that we would be fully informed. While I tentatively agreed to take part, it was on the condition that I could see the documentary before it aired and retract ‘all or part’ of my participation if I felt it necessary. When I saw a TV3 tweet publicising the upcoming documentary, which showed footage of my son that I had never seen, I retracted my permission and said I wanted my part taken out. The idea that footage of my son’s last night alive (which I didn’t know existed) could be shown for the amusement of viewers without warning or showing me first, still astounds me. TV3 went ahead and aired the documentary, ignoring my retraction.

Following the documentary I wrote to TV3 and Vincent Browne expressing my disappointment, which they ignored. I then contacted the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), using the complaints procedure. The BAI, as is usual, referred my complaint back to TV3. The initial niceties and pretence at sympathy by TV3 quickly turned into what I can only describe as a bitter tirade of vitriol, attacking me personally. It seemed I deserved everything I got and sure shouldn’t I be thankful that TV3 didn’t do a reconstruction with ‘knives and blood’ (TV3’s words, not mine).

This week I received the BAI decision which upheld the majority of my complaint. It states that TV3 will now be requested ‘to air the BAI committee’s statement’ – an apology of sorts. Was it worth it? Hell no! It still amazes me that I had to go to all that effort to squeeze it out of them, to acknowledge wrongdoing. TV3 are supposed to be professional, with legal teams employed to go over every minute detail, and yet they thought they were perfectly entitled to trample all over my family’s feelings.

The BAI committee found that TV3 did not demonstrate due care towards me, did not sufficiently inform me of the contents of the programme, did not fully meet the terms agreed beforehand and potentially misled viewers by referring to my son’s letters as a journal.

I have to admit I was shocked and disgusted by the way I was treated by TV3 and by Vincent Browne’s producer. Having survived Shane’s death, albeit through 5 years of shellshock, I feel I’ve been fairly toughened up. From Jim Cusack (a week after my son’s death) writing in the Independent that Shane was a working class boy trying to ingratiate himself into the ‘middle classes’ with a girlfriend ‘above his station’, to (on the day of his funeral) Catholic priest Father Fergus O’Donoghue who said he was just ‘plain evil’.

So yes, I’m fairly used to ignorant bullies being ‘cruel to be kind’ but some things are just plain wrong, and I never agreed to a ‘free for all’, particulary not with TV3.


9 thoughts on “Hate Mail, TV3 and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland

  1. It would appear that this is unbalanced journalism at it’s finest.

    As a blogger both you and I have come under fire for bias when reporting about antidepressants and those who prescribe them.

    TV3 got what they wanted it seems. A huge audience means more payback. I assume that TV3 has adverts when broadcasting?

    The documentary was, in essence, a kangaroo court that focused on the actions rather than the cause.

    Once again you have been subjected to pain, once again you are making sure this does not happen to other families.

    Well done for speaking out and for pursuing your complaint.

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  2. Thanks Truthman and Bobby,
    I realise there is a risk of being seen as a serial complainer in this instance, but what is the alternative? Should I allow TV3 to trample over my wises, and therefore allow it to happen again to others? The BAI decision might serve as a warning to others – to get everything in writing before agreeing to participate in any way, shape or form with a media company, particularly TV3.
    In their response, TV3 stated that the programme was produced to the ‘highest editorial integrity and sensitivity’ – it seems the BAI has found otherwise.

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  3. It was akin to a News Of The World exclusive (and we all know how low in the gutter the stooped), it was shoddy journalism (if you could call it that) and as for the ‘expert’ opinion (that was just plain embarrassing .. do TV3 researchers not use google?)..

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  4. TV3 produced an excellent documentary. It really showed how destructive obsession and jealously can be. Everything they showed was based on fact- the truth is the truth and must come out! Unfortunately in light of the BAI’s crazy decision against Derek Mooney, it is quite obvious that the BAI out of touch with reality and is need of massive reform.

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  5. Tut tut Michael, are you trying to be nice considering the day that’s in it? So glad you were happy with the TV3 documentary. Sorry if I don’t agree but maybe you know my son better than his friends or I did. I suggest you contact the BAI if you feel aggrieved over this or any other decision. They do have a complaints process!

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    1. I could probably ask you the same question about being nice- what do the Hannigans and Creans make of all this? I’m sure you’ve been very careful to in respect of their feelings. Can I complain to the BAI about their decision? I didn’t know that! Tell me more. I don’t know your son better than you- fair point- but maybe you could tell me, is there anything about Shane’s past that you haven’t told us? The TV3 doc told us a lot of stuff you hadn’t mentioned.

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      1. I agree with you on one thing, the Derek Mooney BAI decision, but little else.

        I don’t try to be nice at all, I try to be respectful; there is a difference. This would seem to be personal to you. I don’t understand what you mean about ‘what the Hannigans and Creanes make of all this’. Are you referring to the BAI complaint? If so, I don’t know but I’m not sure it would be of interest to any other family apart from mine.

        The BAI website can be found here for further information: http://www.bai.ie/

        As for Shane’s past, I can safely say that there are a million and one things that I haven’t told ‘you’ about my son. He did not become public property in 2009 upon his death.

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  6. When mothers question adverse reactions to drugs…media judge…Ministers remain silent…and psychiatrists in some cases threaten legal action…how free are we…why can grieving mothers not speak out…they do not lie…there are no lies in grief…why do media and psychiatrists criticize and judge…is death and the loss of a loved one not enough!

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